What the Bible Says About the Three Stages of Man Part 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The Natural Man
7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
8 But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead.
9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died;
10 the very commandment which promised life proved to be death to me.
11 For sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and by it killed me.
12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.
13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
In these verses, Paul explains that if the spiritual man (the saved man) is delivered from the law, the natural man (the lost man) is doomed by the law. As a “natural man” Paul discovered that the law of God exposed the hidden nature of sin in his life. The law did this in two ways.
First, it showed him his sinful nature. He said, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” (v. 7) He saw, because of the law, a hideous caricature of what he was without God in his life.
Second, the law activated his sinful nature. It happened like this, “But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment, wrought in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died.” (v. 8-9) Paul is saying that before the law was introduced, there was freedom from an accusing conscience, a kind of “false peace” brought about by his ignorance of sin. The coming of the law changed all of this. Its straight edge revealed the crookedness in his human nature, and he became aware of his inability to keep the law. Sin has no existence apart from God’s law since by definition sin is the violation of God’s law.
The law of God also shows us the seriousness of sin. All sin is against God; thus it demands eternal damnation and condemnation. Since “the wages of sin is death,” we learn that the law not only reveals sin but that it also produces death.
There are at least fifteen Hebrew words in the Old Testament for sin and they cover the entire spectrum of all possible kinds of wrong attitudes toward God and others. And the Greek New Testament has almost as many words to cover the various kinds of sin. When you consider all these different words for sin, you have an idea of what God thinks about sin in all of its forms.
The law cannot save. Salvation alone is the glorious prerogative of God’s incomparable grace. We are saved by grace, through faith, and not by anything that we do. Paul, as a sinner, found that even his best efforts to win salvation were to no avail. The law that stood before him was “holy, and just, and good.” It was an uncrossable barrier. The best moral efforts he could muster shriveled up and died under the unrelenting searchlight of God’s perfect law. The law revealed what was righteous, but it could not supply the power to be righteous.
There is yet another type of man, the carnal man. Paul describes him in verses 14-18.
The Carnal Man
14 We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good.
17 So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.
18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.
If the spiritual man is delivered from the law by the grace of God, and the natural man is doomed by the law, then the carnal man is defeated by the law. Between what the law demands and what the flesh can produce, there is a “great gulf fixed.”
The temptation of the carnal man (the saved but defeated Christian) is continually to revert to human effort and good works as a means of earning God’s approval. The word carnal describes, then, a Christian who, though saved, is still in bondage to the power of the flesh. He is constantly beset by the tugs and pulls of a self-centered ego. It is this ego that Paul has designated as “the flesh.”
In verses 13-15 Paul shows us the conflict in potentialities that exists in the Carnal Christian. There is a clash within the carnal man because of the old, Adamic nature and the new Christ-like nature existing side by side. Even though he knows what’s right, he can’t do what’s right.
Paul knows that in the Christian there are two wills. There is the fleshly, sinful nature which causes him to sin and that which is born of God, which does not commit sin. He doesn’t have the ability within himself to do good, so his will fluctuates between the domination of these two natures.
The Living Bible paraphrases verse 18, it reads: “I know I am rotten through and through so far as my old sinful nature is concerned. No matter which way I turn I can’t make myself do right. I want to but I can’t.” Paul describes a conflict within himself so intense that he is almost pulled apart at times. The answer lies only in daily submission to the Holy Spirit.
In the last verses of Romans 7, Paul asks, “Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God-through Jesus Christ our Lord!” It is Jesus Christ who has rescued us from the penalty of sin.
In the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul declares, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (v 1). Therefore, for those who are in Christ Jesus, we do not live under the constant threat of punishment by God. In many ways, this chapter is the consummation of Paul’s argument concerning the depravity of man and the righteousness God provided to meet man’s need. Even a casual reading of Romans 8 will leave us with the impression that the Spirit of God and the absence of an attitude of defeat go hand in hand.
Life in the Spirit enables us to live free from the law. This does not mean that the believer is free from sin or free from the prospect of death, but it does mean that the principle of sin and death does not have dominion over him. This indicates that Jesus Christ came to be the sin offering for us since the law could not be that offering.
We do not fulfill the law by walking in the Spirit instead of the flesh, but God fulfills the law in us when we walk after the Spirit of God. Therefore, we are assured of the righteousness of God which the law could not provide but the atonement of Christ does provide. Law brings out the worst in us, but love brings out the best in us. The Holy Spirit within us helps us to do what God wants us to do and to be what God wants us to be.